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New vs Old... Careers in startups vs big companies.

Jobs in startups v jobs in traditional companies

There are many reasons to choose to take a particular opportunity both personal and professional, but one of the things that can often be challenging when assessing a role is the type of company that's offering it. As with anything, different people suit different working environments and making sure you find what suits you is particularly important when setting out on a job hunt.

What is the difference between working in a startup to a big company?

There are definite pros and cons of working for both a startup and a big company, and understanding what those look like might just help you find the place that's right for you. You need to spend some time working out what your priorities are, which might be different depending on your personal responsibilities and goals right now. You also need to consider which work environment suits you best and if you fall between the two, we cover off some of the key points of working within these two opposing business structures to help you identify where you would be more comfortable.

Here are some of the things to think about mark yourself against these points with "S" for start up and "T" for traditional large company. At the end, review which gained more votes, then take a look at those questions where you favoured the other and see whether you can work with those challenges or if they are deal breaker:

Job descriptions for big company, over job descriptions in a startup

Larger companies tend to have a relatively established structure, hierarchy, and allocation of responsibility. In contrast, startups with much fewer employees will inevitably have a much looser concept of what a roles entails. Neither of these scenarios are either particularly good or bad, it's just important to take note of these differences when considering a role.

If you don't like the idea of being pigeon holed and prefer the breadth and opportunity, then a career with a start up might be well suited. The benefit of the startup world is that you will likely have lots of opportunity to learn, to expand your remit, and potentially create more autonomy. However, if you're the sort of worker that wants clear job description, responsibility and what bit you own, without blurred lines between roles, the startup world perhaps isn't for you. A 'Jack of all trades' is perfectly suited to the fluidity of the ever-changing startup and they really do change. Being able to move and adapt to a fast paced, high growth model, where your priorities can change rapidly is what you can expect from a start up. So if you're an adrenalin junkie with high focus, this workplace will be right up your street.

The startup career

The smaller the company, the less day-to-day management and the more autonomy. Simple. Startup employees are often expected to make their own decisions, manage their own workflows and survive without a clear chain of command. You are your own boss. If you're the sort of person who likes freedom, taking responsibility, and using your initiative then a startup can be the perfect proving ground. Bear in mind, that if things go wrong, there is no where to hide, so you need to be confident to stand by your decisions and make changes where necessary, learning from any mistakes and helping the business to move in the ideal direction. If you want to know you have a line manager to catch you or other departments to share the risk, then a startup might not be quite right for you.

The startup culture

There are some key differences between a startup and a big company's culture. That isn't to say that they won't have the same sort of culture, but the startup world is ever-changing, and the culture might not be that clear at the start. Startups tend to have a work from home structure, particularly if they haven't invested in office space - that might not suit you.

The flip side of this is that you might have an impact on the trajectory of the startup company and be able to creature some parts of the culture around you.

In contrast, if you don't find the right cultural fit in a big company, it won't adapt to you. You will either have to adapt to that culture, or look for somewhere else, and that can always be hard. In order for a business to be its most successful, then it should be recruiting candidates at any level, from facilities to boardroom, with the right fit to the company's culture. This is vital for their success and company performance. So if you don't feel you fit the company's culture and they're not identifying if you do fit their culture in the interview process or initial discussions with your recruiter, then you're likely in a mis-matched opportunity and it's time to walk away.

Finding a big company with the perfect culture can be the most boosting feeling, and present a long-term opportunity. So spend some time identifying what sort of culture you want to be involved in.

Job security in a startup

If you like to sleep soundly at night knowing your job is safe, a startup really isn't the place to find that feeling of security. Quite often, in the early stages, startups aren't profitable, and they rely heavily on raising funds to sustain their growth. That means there is always a risk that the company isn't going to make it, and if it doesn't survive, neither does your job! But there is always a pay off. High risk, high reward. In fact, sometimes even seemingly successful start ups don't make it to the eight year mark - you only have to look at the energy industry to see the impact on wholesale prices hikes to the business models of Bulb energy and Avro energy; they both closed their doors within months of each other this year. On the flip side, Octopus energy, another startup in electricity is flying. Their innovative structure and commitment to customer service makes them look set for the long haul. However, knowing that the risk to your job exists even long into the future, you'll want to factor this into your thinking. If you're looking for that certainty, a long established business will give you greater clarity on the security of your position, and the company as a whole. Don't get me wrong, redundancies are still a thing and even established players can fold; Lehman Brothers anyone? On the whole though, the probability and balance is that larger, traditional companies will have more capital to sustain their employees, even through challenging times.

Job progression in a startup

Most startups, purely because of size, have a very flat hierarchy meaning that although there isn't a traditional path of progression, there is an opportunity to jump to a much more significant role, fast. You might start out as a social media manager, and before you know it, you're Head of Marketing and recruiting your team. If it's title you're after, you'll gain control of your work kingdom pretty quickly.

The flip side is that there is now guarantee of progression and there is little clarity when it comes to scaling pay. In a large company, you can be fairly sure that after x years, you will be earning y money and you will have z job title. If you want to know what the future holds, you're willing to wait for the opportunities to open up, then a big company is probably the thing for you.

Communication in a startup

Because of the small nature of a startup, you are far more likely to get an insight into the trajectory of the business, plans and projections than if you work for a big company. Proximity alone can give you direct access to extensive information that isn't afforded employees from bigger companies. However, it is possible that you don't want to be looped in on every game-changing aspect of the business, and if so, the bigger the company, the greater the control from the top.

Earnings potential in a startup

Smaller company, smaller salary. Bigger company, bigger salary. Or at least that's the general rule. However, in a startup you might get stock options. For many startups they want to see the cash in the bank at the end of every month; they don't want to gamble on what they could maybe make if the company is successful. In a bigger company, you're likely to receive a bonus based on performance as well as your salary.

In a big company pay reviews aren't often that big, even when you move into a new role with more responsibility, so be prepared to challenge for a decent pay rise. This is why people become job seekers, because the easiest way to increase their wage has been to leave a company. Never is that truer than now, with the "counter-offer" and "stay interview". This brings us back around to culture, if a business isn't willing to invest in you and pay you your worth, then culturally they aren't the right fit for you if money is your motivation. If you're not that motivated by the money you are earning or are happy for a bit of delayed reward, and you're working for a company you believe in, then you might just win big by tying yourself to the next big startup.

Are startups good to work for?

Making life decisions, career or otherwise, is always challenging, but picking the right environment to work in can be particularly difficult. But it is important to note, there isn't really a 'better' option. It is a personal choice about what suits you, and the place that has the chance to make you happier and more fulfilled is the one that's right for you. Simple!

If you are looking for your future career opportunity, get in touch. You can upload your CV via our online form here. We're an ethical recruiter and never send speculative CVs. Any role that we speak to you about is one that we are actively recruiting for. We will also only speak to you about something if it matches your experience, skills and expectations, as well as being a culture fit and meet our client's candidate requirements. This blog post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated in December 2021.

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